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Ten Word or Less Review: Sam and Suzy’s Excellent Adventure

Sam and Suzy are both unhappy.  Sam is an orphan spending his summer at Camp Ivanhoe, a diligently maintained scout base run by firm but well-meaning Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).  Suzy lives with her three brothers, two unhappily married lawyer parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) and a kitten.  A year earlier, during a chance encounter at a local theater production of Noah’s Ark that Sam found boring, the two meet, fall for each other and begin to correspond.  They hatch a plan which will see Sam escape Camp Ivanhoe, Suzy flee the quiet angst of her home life, and have the two establish a home for themselves far from the troubles that overwhelm their 12-year old lives.   The fact that they are kids confined to a small island and that all outside forces will conspire against their dreams does not deter their efforts in the slightest.  They will create their own world and live as they see fit, off the land and unencumbered by the cruel forces over which they have no control.  They will fish, they will read and dance and they will love without the problems they see so many else endure.

Moonrise Kingdom is the latest effort from Wes Anderson.  This is the sixth live action feature for the occasionally overpraised director, Life Aquatic was lousy, and nearly his best.  Anderson captures the innocence of first love but avoids being coy or condescending towards his characters or the viewer.  Sam and Suzy, portrayed by first time actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, may be barely young adults, but Anderson shows a deep respect and understanding for both.  Gilman and Hayward effortlessly embody the kind of reserved but deep emotions in which Anderson’s characters specialize.  They are children, but instilled with an innocent wisdom, well aware that life can be cruel and unfair and undeserved in both regards.  None the less they conspire and scheme to be together, the world and its wishes be damned.  The look of the duo also stands to possibly be iconic.  By this Halloween expect to see the hip kids dressed as Sam, black glasses and raccoon hat, and Suzy, pink dress equipped with kitten basket.

Filling out the cast is a collection of fine actors who fit snugly into an Anderson concoction.  His muse Bill Murray is of course on hand, once again playing middle aged and unhappy.  Edward Norton tries mightily to steal the show as the diligent and concerned Scout Master Ward.  Always smoking, it’s 1964, Norton’s Ward emotionally dictates notes into a recorder each night, but for who I could never say.   Bruce Willis makes an unexpectedly good fit into the Anderson universe, playing the village police officer who pines for Murray’s wife, played by Frances McDormand in a somewhat under served role.  Harvey Kietel, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban and Jason Schwartzman round out the cast in small but showy parts.

With all of his trademark style in full effect, Anderson spins his tale with the signature sense of finely structured whimsy his devoted audience should be well familiar with by now.  Anderson loves meticulous details and sublime visual tomfoolery and Moonrise has all of that in abundance.  He draws out laughs through observations and pin point editing.  Kingdom captures the look of the 60’s but never feels stodgy or reverent to the time.  It is by turns charming and delightful, with consistent sense of looming darkness that builds into a wonderful, well-deserved and thrilling climax.  He’s basically filmed a lost, great young adult novel from the age.

At its best, Kingdom takes on the feel of a rebellious tall tale that should entertain young and old alike.  It’s a tight rope of story and style, rich in detail and not afraid to jar its audience on occasion.  From narrator Bob Balaban suddenly revealing to himself to be a character to the fate of an unfortunate dog named Snoopy, it quietly surprises the audience again and again, and in the end, leaves the viewer thrilled with the end result.  I hope this spirited version of Anderson, the one who made this and the equally wonderful Fantastic Mr. Fox , decides to stay with us.  May dour auteur who made Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited no longer feel the need to rear his head.


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